We live in a culture that thrives from using and adapting other people’s inventions and theories. All creation requires influence – we get ideas from other ideas that came before ours. The term ‘remixing’ originally had a precise and a narrow meaning that gradually became diffused. With each element of a song – vocals, drums, etc. – available for separate manipulation, it became possible to “re-mix” the song. Gradually the term became more and more broad, today referring to any reworking of already existing cultural work(s). Some forms of remix are legally ‘more okay’ than others however, due to what the authority of the matter deems as other people’s property, which is why we have patents and copyright laws. Everyone has the right to be credited (and paid) for something they created – but is it not also true that everyone has the creative freedom to make what we want to make?
Regardless of its’ legality, it is undeniable that we remix everything. And that means, almost literally everything. What defines a remix is broader than a lot of people probably think it is. It’s common to see remix in certain places where it is deemed acceptable, for example in clubs or at live events where a DJ plays their own mashup of hit pop songs and weird beats no one has ever heard before. Although, this point of something ‘never being heard before’ is arguable because almost every song nowadays is made up of parts from earlier songs. According to Ethan Hein, there are no original ideas. There are novel combinations of old ideas, but it’s neither possible nor desirable to make a genuinely new and unprecedented piece of music. If you want to hear truly original music, bang randomly on a piano keyboard. You’ll be playing something new and unprecedented, but it probably won’t be something you’d want to hear twice. Or even once, for that matter. We as people tend to stick to what we know and we don’t like change – which almost explains why films, tv and books remix the same material over and over yet get box office hits.
It’s so incredibly easy to edit other people’s content considering that we all carry technology with us every day. We have iPhones with apps that can edit with the touch of a screen, as well as free editing programs for download onto any type of computer. However, accessible as remix is, we have rules and restrictions set upon us by certain bodies in attempt to stop us from remixing other people’s content, for example the algorithms on YouTube that delete a video that has copyrighted material.
Even creators as famous as George Lucas used other people’s work to create his own, as we can see from the many shots that replicate older films in Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope. It puts remix into perspective when we realise that some really, really good things come from (essentially) stealing other people’s ideas. However we have a choice to see it as a crime, like the authoritative idealogical state apparatuses enforce, or see it as a tribute to those before us – almost like saying, ‘thanks for the idea, I appreciate your creativity and now I’m going to use it.’